European Social Cognition Network Meeting (Transfer of knowledge meeting) edition:9 location:Brno date:5-9 September 2007
When people read or hear subject-verb-object sentences that describe interpersonal events, people infer personality traits of the subject and the object and causally explain why the event has happened. The verb may affect these inferences. On the one hand, more abstract verbs elicit weaker subject attributions and stronger object attributions than more concrete verbs. On the other hand, people view more abstract verbs as more informative about the subject’s personality than more concrete verbs. At least three explanations may be advanced for this paradox.
First, inferring personality traits and causally explaining behaviors may imply different cognitive mechanisms so that they are differentially affected by verb abstraction. Second, the effect of verb abstraction may depend on the valence of the event being described so that conflicting results emerge from studies that include different numbers of positive and negative events. Third, the effect of verb abstraction may be curvilinear so that studies that compare different levels yield conflicting results.
The present research tested these three explanations. Participants read subject-verb-object sentences that described desirable and undesirable events at three levels of abstraction. They rated how informative the descriptions were about the interactants’ personality and how much each interactant had caused the events. The results refuted the third hypothesis while contradicting the first and the second one. Additional findings showed that the curvilinear relationship cannot be explained by people attributing different levels of personal control to the subject and the object of the sentences but that it may be due to verb abstraction affecting consensus and distinctiveness inferences.